And no one can talk to a horse of course?

Nov. 25, 2019
Peering into the souls of our assets.

Central to modern manufacturing is listening to machines. And machines, naturally, do not speak. So we employ some trickery to understand them—vibration analysis, studying performance data, computer vision, etc.

Now, one of man’s earliest industrial assets—the horse—is getting a transformation of its own. 

The Soul Saddle, according to its makers, is a tech device that helps the rider understand the soul of the horse on which he or she sits. Not just the brain of the horse. The soul. (Take that, predictive maintenance!)

The Soul Saddle is only in prototype stage, so put away your wallets. Here’s how it (supposedly) works: there’s a thin sensor that gets placed under the saddle pad. This device monitors heart rate, calories burned, breath rate and nervous-system responses, which indicate whether the animal is in a stressful or relaxed state. Data gets sent to the rider via an app that is hard to read while horseback riding.

Terry Lyles, CEO of Phitech, which is the technology provider for the saddle, believes this aggregated data provides a window into the animal’s soul.

And as for the animals? Are those soulful, athletic beasts really clamoring to communicate with their human counterparts via this modern piece of technology? Says Lyles, “Horses don’t understand because it’s light and they can’t feel it.”

Fair enough.

I understand the motivation in developing a tool like Soul Saddle or any of the technologies we use to glean deeper understandings of the machines and animals with which we work. All of us in this Industry 4.0 space recognize the tremendous value in automating and digitizing what were formerly human insights—whether it’s the lifelong technician who understands his packaging machine as if it was his own child, or the weathered cowboy who, after years spent on horseback, has an innate understanding of equestrian behavior.

But we might want to pause before rushing headlong into having our workhorses chat with us.

If the Soul Saddle were to actually enable a beast of burden to communicate, I suspect a horse might say:

• Take this sensor out from under my saddle pad and stop trying to peer into my soul you godless two-legger.

• Feed me more apples.

• I am ready to be put out to stud.

Perhaps I’m close-minded. Lyles and his partners clearly recognize more complexity in our equestrian counterparts than I do.

Frankly, I hope he’s right. I hope that technology like the Soul Saddle will enable us to optimize our interactions with our four-legged assets just as we do with machines in the industrial space.

“Never under or overestimate your horse again,” reads this product’s marketing materials.

That should sound familiar to plant operators trying to figure out how to optimally run their machines—knowing when to pull the reins on a production line and when to yell “Giddy-up!”

By Chris McNamara, Smart Industry content director

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